There is an understandable reluctance to give much print space to low-budget genre films, mainly due to the similarity of subject matter that inundates various forms of visual media. Zombies, vampires, slasher/torture porn, and found footage evil are themes that dominate the market, and act to dull viewer sensibilities to the point where new titles are generally avoided rather than sampled. The category dealing with large monsters/critters is particularly susceptible to cut-and-paste storylines using bad CGI (examples abound, but for the sake of verisimilitude, see any title involving a sharktopus, or a whalewolf, or a megapirahna). It takes a bit of skill, but mostly just dumb luck, to find a film of this type that makes even a token attempt to present a decent screenplay, good acting, competent directing, and professional production values. Fortunately, a new German-US film, Stung, which just popped up on Netflix streaming along with DVD and Blu-ray release, meets most of those criteria.
Stung grabbed this viewer immediately with a nicely-shot pre-credit scene that follows a bumblebee as it meanders lazily over a beautiful, bucolic countryside. Ho-hum, you say, another killer bee film. Nope. Following the bee is a sinister black insect that attacks its prey in mid-air, driving both to the ground, where a nasty, retractable stinger dispatches the peaceful bumble. We are talking killer wasps here. But it gets even better. There are BIG killer wasps in the immediate future.
The single setting for the film is an isolated summer mansion where the wealthy owners are throwing an outdoor celebration of… something or other. This kind of detail is really unimportant in an extremely simple story. Our protagonists are Julia and Paul, two young entrepreneurs who are struggling to keep her catering business afloat. Julia, in a fine, emotive performance by Jessica Cook in her first feature film, is a focused, frightened young woman who wants to make a good impression on her customers, and is oblivious to her mumbling, moon-struck helper/bartender Paul, played by veteran actor Matt O’Leary (Frailty, 2001; Brick, 2005). They arrive at the mansion, begin the outdoor setup, and a horde of wasps erupt from an underground nest. Chaos ensues. But the extra added attraction is that the wasps lay eggs in their hosts that grow into gigantic flying monsters complete with host characteristics. Thus, human wasps, dog wasps, and even bovine wasps. The beasties are presented in quite competent CGI forms, mostly when flying, and in excellent practical animatronics when on the ground. And that is the entire 82-minute (plus credits) film. It ain’t major award material by any means, but neither is it remotely akin to a sharktopus.
What is most interesting to this reviewer, however, is that Stung is the offspring of rookies. Adam Aresty’s script is his first screen credit; while the story is linear and simplistic, the dialog is sharp, occasionally funny, and surprisingly emotional. Director Benni Diez does a very competent job in his first feature film. The fine photography and scene composition by Stephen Burchardt is the sophomore effort after a TV movie (sf/thriller Killing All the Flies, 2013). Acting is confined to four major characters, all of whom are fine to acceptable. And it appeared to this reviewer that the director allowed some ad-libbing by O’Leary and supporting cast member Lance Henriksen (genre credits too numerous to mention).
As a complete package, Stung turned out to be a very entertaining little genre film, never pretending to be something it’s not. The effort by all of the creative people listed above is greatly appreciated by those of us who fondly remember the low-budget, black-and-white Big Bug films of yesteryear. There is still some life in this old trope.